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Posted on Wed, May 15, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

Sabra Briere talks about challenges city faces with Ann Arbor's downtown zoning

By Ryan J. Stanton

Standing atop the promenade deck outside Ann Arbor's city hall on Tuesday, City Council Member Sabra Briere acknowledged the challenges the city faces with its downtown zoning.

Overlooking a collection of properties just east of city hall, Briere, D-1st Ward, contemplated the theoretical possibility that a future developer — given the D1 zoning that's in place in that area — could come along and acquire the parking lot that fronts Ann Street and some of the adjacent parcels, and construct a 180-foot-tall development that meets the city's zoning requirements.

And given that it rubs up against a historic district and residential properties, a 180-foot-tall development might be disliked as much as the 14-story high-rise at 413 E. Huron the City Council approved this week for fear of bringing on a costly lawsuit if it didn't approve the project.

Briere was one of five council members who voted against the project, which won approval in a 6-5 split vote following months of debate.

Watch the video above (note the 411 Lofts and Varsity student high-rises off in the distance) and leave your thoughts on the city's downtown zoning in the comments below.

And while you're at it, take our poll.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:43 a.m.

Did I misread a recent story about her being unapposed for the upcoming election? Do incumbent members of city council still need to get signatures to maintain their seat?

Sabra C Briere

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 3:24 a.m.

I needed to file a minimum of 100 signatures of voters registered in the First Ward. So, yes.


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:02 a.m.

Hey! I just voted for the survey a second time. How can that be allowed?


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 11:19 p.m.

A politically motivated NO vote on a foregone outcome earns Ms. Briere an interview and article? Must be nice to be so connected to the pulse of the community. Can we hear what the other No votes have to say about zoning in Ann Arbor?

Kai Petainen

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 3:01 a.m.

"besides having the gift of clarity when she talks" I agree. She is incredibly good at clarity.

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:37 a.m.

Besides, it's in her ward.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 11:42 p.m.

No, DJBudSonic, Sabre Briere was not interviewed because of a political "no". The First Ward City Council member happens to be very erudite and well informed besides having the gift of clarity when she talks.

Kai Petainen

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

did this actually happen? serious or joking? "Sally Hart Petersen asked why there were married couples being appointed to the CAC and Sabra replied to the extent that it gives couples something to do together. "

Sabra C Briere

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 3:21 a.m.

John Floyd, For those who care - and why should they? - the C stands for Caroline. Named after my father's great-grandmothers, Sabra Holt and Caroline Hamilton.

Kai Petainen

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 3 a.m.

Sabra, thanks for your response. I didn't expect a response. It's actually a pretty funny comment. I can take a joke and some dry humor. LOL I've said it before and I'll say it again.... as I listen to the councilmembers... I find that I have a lot of respect for your thoughts in particular. I will not always agree with you, but you are quite good at articulating why you vote the way you do. I have a lot of respect for that. I think we'll always need a Sabra Briere at city council. You spoke well at the meeting on the 13th. I had a choice of either watching city council or game 7 of a Stanley Cup Playoff game... and I watched city council. LOL.

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:37 a.m.

And Sabra, when you say something poorly, we'll let you know. Until then, keep it coming.

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:36 a.m.

Sabra, I think your comment was hysterical. I wish I had heard it live. By the way, what does the "C" stand for?

Sabra C Briere

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 12:16 a.m.

Every body says something poorly from time to time. I did. Sometimes my dry sense of humor comes across as - not funny. There are no rules about married couples serving - or not serving - on boards, committees or commissions at the same time. I don't have any idea which rationales apply to any individual who serves on the Citizen Advisory Council. I do know that, for many years, the Council has met in public and discussed - in a lively fashion - issues related to the downtown. I've agreed with - and disagreed with - the positions this council has presented. They are advisory. The restrictions for serving on the Citizen Advisory Council are found in the State legislation establishing Downtown Development Authorities: 125.1671 Development area citizens council; establishment; appointment and qualifications of members; representative of development area. Sec. 21. (1) If a proposed development area has residing within it 100 or more residents, a development area citizens council shall be established at least 90 days before the public hearing on the development or tax increment financing plan. The development area citizens council shall be established by the governing body and shall consist of not less than 9 members. The members of the development area citizens council shall be residents of the development area and shall be appointed by the governing body. A member of a development area citizens council shall be at least 18 years of age. (2) A development area citizens council shall be representative of the development area.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 9:41 p.m.

I probably wouldn't of mind if the building wasn't for students and if it weren't right next door to a historic district. You can't have a mid-rise then historic homes. At least have a gateway or a buffer between the two.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 11:39 p.m.

So you do mind. Did you voice your objections to your City Council representative and speak out against the site plan at recent City Council meetings?

Scott Reed

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

The "challenges" are local NIMBYism and incumbent landlords wanting to box out competitors. The more dense downtown development, the better. Briere would actually prefer an eyesore surface parking lot to apartments or other development? That is completely backwards. We need council members who have the people of Ann Arbor's interest in mind, not the interest of some privileged, rent-seeking local slum lords who contribute nothing of value to this town. Bravo to the council members who voted in favor of 413 E. Huron. I look forward to many more such projects, so that forward-thinking residents will even further outnumber the NIMBYs and slum lords. Ann Arbor is changing for the better.

Colorado Sun

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

I was stunned at Sabra Briere's comments at the May 13th City Council hearing on the issue of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council re-appointments. The seats to that entity have all expired and there have been no current memebrs on that public body since October of 2012 when the last three appointees seats lapsed. Minutes of the CAC also have not been prepared in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. Sally Hart Petersen asked why there were married couples being appointed to the CAC and Sabra replied to the extent that it gives couples something to do together. I have never seen a board where 3 married couples had been appointed to serve simulatneously. I am one of many citizens that have opposed these re-appointments of cronies such as Ray Detter and Herbert and Jane Kaufer to this council. Ray Detter is the only one that I am aware of that has even applied for re-appointment and the public has not been given an adequate opprtunity to apply for the 15 vacancies created by the failure of any council member to timely re-apply for their respective seat. All seats were allowed to expire due to carelessness of the seat holders and the Mayor and the statutorily-mandated CAC is unable to achieve a quorum or transact business due to the council's dormant state. I want to see the City Council approve a cross-section of students, professionals and other residents who have not previously served to sit on the CAC. Ann Arbor residents should e-mail City Council with their objections to having married couples and other cronies nominated by the Mayor and appointed to the CAC . did a nice story about the current problems that Ray Detter and the CAC now faces.


Thu, May 16, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

I couldn't have said it better!


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

As a resident of downtown (and not one here for school and gone) I think the "ENOUGH" consensus is pretty strong. Moratorium now!

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:33 a.m.

Ordmad, Are you willing to work to remove the remaining council members who saddled us with this zoning?

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

The "enough" philosophy is what I'm hearing from some people just in terms of over saturating the downtown apartment philosophy. There is a line, somewhere, the question is whether we've reached it.

Colorado Sun

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

@ordmad: We need you and other downtown residents to apply to the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council to fill its 15 vacancies. Residents of downtown have no real voice.

pooh bear

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

At the Monday night meeting, Sabra clearly articulated what the opposition to this project hinged on--expectations of citizens to have their rights considered along with the rights of developers. Apparently, private property rights trump all others. In this light, it is very appropriate to have a moratorium on new development, especially anything bordering a historic district. WE can let developers know from the outset that intense development on the edges of residential districts, whether historic or not, cannot be tolerated.

Colorado Sun

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

The key problem is that residents do not have a properly-constituted Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council to look out for their interests. Tell City Council to use due diligence to advertise openings so a broad cross-section of citzens can apply and act as competent advocates for downtown residents.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 8 p.m.

Not every council member agreed with city staff's assertion that the developer's project met the legal code requirements. These are Jane Lumm's code-related concerns about the 413 E. Huron project, many of which she cited at Monday night's meeting:

Steve Bean

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 1:04 a.m.

There you go again, Ryan, being the mouthpiece for… um… ;-)


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:48 p.m.

I feel sorry for the people living just to the north of the new apartment building but there was no legal reason to deny the proposal. The city would have lost if the developer had sued. I think the city made a mistake with the way they rezoned a lot of these areas. They really need to look at D2 buffer zoning between D1 and residential areas.

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:31 a.m.

Jamie, What is the basis of your statement that "The city would have lost if the developer had sued"? Is there statute or case law that supports your position?

Peter Eckstein

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:18 p.m.

Sabra is asking the right questions and implying the right answers. Two additional thoughts: 1) Council should now enact a zoning moratorium for downtown like the one that was defeated last month because of overblown fear of a lawsuit from the developer of 413 Huron. A moratorium now would exclude 413, and therefore that developer would have no standing or reason to sue. 2) As Council reviews zoning, it might consider that it would not hurt to be overly restrictive, setting much lower height and density limits for transitional areas, but leaving open the possibility that it could later make exceptions and/or amendments as any worthy projects were proposed. This may seem arbitrary, but in approving 413 the Council majority ignored those portions of the law that require that a project not be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare. This project surely will be detrimental to some or all of those things. We do not protect our city by letting developers treat zoning laws as a box and argue that they have a "right" to build anything that fits within that box regardless of its damage to the community.

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:42 a.m.

Peter, I'm on your side, but I think that Bob W has a point here. There are already plenty of legal ways to get around zoning if the situation calls for it.

Bob W

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:52 p.m.

"..but leaving open the possibility that it could later make exceptions and/or amendments as any worthy projects were proposed." Sorry Peter, I disagree. It is precisely this sort of "soft" language that gets everyone on trouble. Re-evaluate the zoning then stick to it.. period.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:16 p.m.

I think it is important that we revisit the D1D2 zoning and, as Sabra says in her last sentence: We have to look at whether the guidelines actually have teeth.

John Floyd

Thu, May 16, 2013 : 2:29 a.m.

This project was approved precisely because council's guidelines have no teeth whatsoever - if you believe what council members said at Monday's meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

Go here to see a good map showing where, given the current zoning in Ann Arbor, we may or may not see more dense development downtown in the future: